Journalist Nedim Türfent, imprisoned in Turkey: ‘To touch truths is a dangerous game’
This is the second story of a trilogy. Later this week the story of writer and activist Nurcan Baysal, who continues to work in Diyarbakir. Last Monday in this series: Faruk Encü.
Kurdish journalist Nedim Türfent (you can find his twitter account here) has been in prison since 12 March 2016. Before his incarceration, he was reporting on the city wars in the southeast of Turkey. He was threatened online by accounts related to the Turkish state. These accounts have names connected to Jitem, the illegal death squads of the Turkish army in the 1990s. Nevertheless, Türfent continued to work.
A Dutch woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent Nedim a letter in September last year. It reached him quickly but his reply, written on 29 September, only reached its addressee three weeks ago in December. This was after Türfent was sentenced to a prison term of eight years and nine months for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, on 15 December 2017.
Despite all the pressure on journalists in Turkey, the sentence came as a shock. Twenty one people had testified against Türfent, but during the trial all but one of them claimed that they had been tortured into making their accusations. One of the witnesses said that he didn’t even know who Nedim Türfent was when he gave his forced statement to the police. Also, some of the witnesses were less than eighteen years old and their questioning didn’t meet the standards for underage witnesses.
One of the things that particularly got Nedim Türfent into trouble is publishing a video in which a Turkish army officer is seen shouting at a group of Kurdish men lying outside on the ground, handcuffed. He is heard shouting: ‘You will see the strength of the Turkish republic! I know all of you! Whoever is being a traitor or committing treason will see the repercussions! What has the state done to you?’
Türfent’s lawyers are appealing against the sentence.
Below is the letter Nedim sent to the Dutch woman who wrote to him. Het name and a few paragraphs have been left out to make sure she can’t be identified. If you want to send a letter too, use the address at the bottom of the letter.
VAN, Turkey, 29 September 2017
Iron, mass of concrete, wire fences, iron banisters and walls. I can glance at the sky through only one-palm point of view. A twenty-four steps courtyard to walk in, for ten hours a day. Namely, a climate as dark as pitch. Passing through dark ages, I am embracing even each glimmer of hope. Look, sometimes, some unique people act in solidarity with me/us. Just like you – your letter – today (September 22nd, 2017). I welcomed your letter, particularly you, with a beam! I received your letter three hours ago and read it three times, for now! I imprinted every detail in my mind. It’s marvellous and tremendous. I don’t know how to thank, please forgive me. Your letter has planted seeds of hope into my isolated life. Now, I am in the seventh heaven in a way. Just as I received it, I breathed an immediate sigh of relief on seeing that there was no sign of dream. That is to say, in the wake of reading your letter, I can say that current black coulds will blow over soon and the sun will re-shine as soon as possible.
Presumably, I have to introduce myself to you. I began my life of journalism seven years ago, and working as a reporter and English news editor for Dicle News Agency since then. The ‘young reporter’ is twenty years old, born in Yüksekova, a Kurdish hometown in the east of the country, and also just at the borderline with Iraq and Iran. I was imprisoned on 12 May 2016 when I was reporting about the afore-said town where a curfew was declared for months.
Dear XXXX, I want to explain the ‘conditions’ and ‘treatment’ I am exposed to, but if I write them, they will certainly seize my letter! For that reason, if you wonder, you could learn outside or please wait for me to go out one day. Then, I will tell face to face. Owing to the solidarity and sensitivity of the public, they ‘had to jail’ me. What a pity! The first letters sent by friends outside ironically read ‘We are glad to hear about your arrest! Now, we know that you live, you survive!’ That’s just the tip of the iceberg, use your power of dream to predict.
Dear XXXX, you may ask why are they reagarding me as a ‘persona non grata’. Due to the forbidden fruit! Of course, that ‘unforgiveable offence’ is to write the truths, oppressions, rights violations, war policies etc. All the activities and deeds of journalism have been called as ‘offence’, including making interviews, taking photos, reporting or even tweeting a report/news. I had to wait for my indictment for nine months in prison. The first hearing was held in June, second in August and I am looking forward to tee the third one, on December 1st.
Here, I have limited rights in the prison, especially they limited the rights more and more following ongoing martial law. Almost all of our rights have been suspended or restricted. Every prisoner has the right of chatting, sports and courses, except me! Not only me, but also some others. I can own only ten books and five magazines. The right to call family is ten minutes twice a month. In the last visit, I took photos with my family, but they deleted the photos. What’s the motive behind it? There was a victory sigh on my T-shirt reading ‘Don’t forget the rythm, Make trouble’, and some musical signs... I feel that you are smiling now, just like me. During these eighteen months in prison, I have been exiled from jail to jail, at the moment I am in the 5th one. Morover, I was exposed to naked-search at the entrance of the 4th one.
In fact, as long as the politics becomes tense in our country, violation of rights hits the ceiling. To shed light on that ‘climate of winter’, I endeavor to enliven my arrested days with books, novels by Harper Lee, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, J.J. Roussau, Sartre, Murray Bookchin, N. Chomsky, George Orwell and other national and international authors and poets. By the way, I am writing poems and stories, as well. I can easily say that the near future is pregnant for a book.
Embrace my pen
Dear XXXX, to touch the truths, to oppose, is a dangerous game here! In spite of all the pressures, there are still some brave press-lovers and a successor of free press. It is a must for me/us to defend journalism, even if it costs my life. If I don’t write, I will lose my beam, hope and big dream. Who can play ostrich? Who can silence its pen? I believe on the unique power and strength of pen and words. Therefore, it is vital for me to embrace my pen whatever happens or costs. As journalists, we have to use our pens to make all the world more liveable. Pen and words are for peace, freedom, democracy, hope and joy of life.
It is required to red-underline that a massive international solidarity has become a sine qua non in order to heal ‘sick journalism’ of our country. Journalism is frankly on the brink of cliff. In a way, spring is far from these lands, but I know even a smallish light of candle is enough. I have hope, due to the fact that ‘where there is life, there is hope’. If you want to survive, you have to hope. Every darkness has an occult ray, which will bring its end, inside itself.
With a clear-cut sentence, I will not give up journalism as they put me in jail. If journalism is ‘crime’, if expressing the truths is ‘offence’, I will go on committing that ctime! Is it moral to take no notice of all those violations, injustice applications? Is it ethical to wink at? They want to conceal the truths, so they imprison journalists and other voices, a waterproof fact! Sooner or later truth will conquer. Hopefully, vox populi will not permit the handcuff to hold out the truths anymore.
I agree with you, Turkey is a beautiful country... Among the most important natural resources of our country are its forests and mountains. Unfortunately, a great many of our forests have been destroyed by unconscious building, dams, etc. It’s said that it was once possible to ride across the country under a continuous green canopy of trees. However, now it is impossible. Here, in prison, I miss grass, soil, green, sea, sky, rivers, mountains, all nature.
Not a joke
When they put me in this cell few months ago, I had nothing to read, even books. I read the writing on the detergents. Our friends made this an ironic news article! A few days ago, I wrote a letter to one of my arrested journalists. I write in it, the ‘Justice minister’ claims that there are no jailed journalists! They seized my letter on grounds of ‘criticizing ironically’:-) That’s not a joke.
Dear XXXX, I was very active outside working day and night. So it’s quite difficult for me to live inside a cell. Can you predict, I miss even running.
You are a chance for me/us. Therefore, I want to take the opportunity. If it is possible, I want your friends and you to initiate a signature campaign aimed at my freedom. It could be online. As you know, there are dozens of sites. Whatever your answer, I thank all of you from now on :-) To sum up, I call on the authorized officials to act in solidarity more. A proverb reads ‘To remain silent is to commit the same crime or is to become partner’. Your solidarity and unity will make your hope green. Journalism needs you in order to survive. Do not let hope to face. Expectations are on the brink of extinction.
Dear XXXX, I’d better sign off. I am looking forward to your reply. Thank you for your priceless solidarity. Take care of your beautiful heart!
Best regards, wishes,
Van Yüksek Güvenlikli
Kapalı Ceza İnfaz Kurumu
Later this week in this trilogy, episode three: the story of writer and activist Nurcan Baysal in Diyarbakir. Don't forget to read the story of Faruk Encü, the first in this series!